Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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This week, Warner Brothers invites you to Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth is the story of a young man searching for his lost grandfather on an uncharted island. He is accompanied by mother’s muscle head boyfriend, as well as two other unlikely adventurers; one of whom is the pilot of the helicopter that crash lands on the island. Starring as the beefy guardian of the protagonist is Dwayne Johnson (née The Rock). The Rock, who as we all know started his career as a professional wrestler, has proven to be quite the box office draw since making the leap to film.
But here at Under the Radar, what interests us just as much as a big star (quite literally in the case of The Rock) is a talented character actor who may not get as much recognition. Such is the case with The Rock’s Journey 2 costar Luis Guzman. Guzman has been working in Hollywood for many years and has appeared in more major, well-known films than we can count. We’ve compiled this list of some of our favorites.
Al Pacino, a decade after portraying Tony Montana in Scarface, reteamed with director Brian De Palma to bring us another iconic Hispanic gangster in 1993’s Carlito’s Way. Pacino’s Carlito Brigante is a former drug kingpin trying to go straight upon his release from prison, but his return to his old neighborhood thrusts him back into the life he thought he’d left behind. A phenomenal film, Carlito’s Way features a number of great performances, in particular that of Sean Penn as a corrupt lawyer. To his credit, Guzman stands out as well as one of Carlito’s oldest friends, who goes on to become his right-hand man.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated 1997 film Boogie Nights is a wild exploration of the nefarious world of the adult film industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The film features an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Burt Reynolds, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, and, of course, Luis Guzman. Guzman plays a flashy club owner whose hot nightspot serves as a place of introduction for many of the film’s colorful characters.
Despite the fact that, these days, you can’t throw a wooden stake without hitting a vampire movie, 1992’s Innocent Blood is truly fantastic. It’s the story of a beautiful vampire named Marie living, and feeding in Pittsburgh. The thing that makes her unique is that Marie has a very distinct craving…for Italian. She bites the local mafia boss, but in doing so, breaks one of her cardinal rules: she doesn’t kill him. Before long, the city is awash in undead criminals. Innocent Blood is John Landis’ darkly comedic mash up of horror and gangster films, and the combination makes for a decidedly different kind of underworld. With his appearance the film, Guzman adds yet another prominent director to his resume.
While not necessarily one of his artier film roles, Guzman’s turn in the 2005 comedy Waiting never fails to slay us. He costars with Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, and Anna Faris in this vulgar examination of the darker side of waiting tables and the nightmares inherent in working for tips. Guzman plays a member of the kitchen staff at popular restaurant Shenaniganz who engages in a rather disgusting version of show-and-tell with the other staff members. Our advice: don’t look down.
Out of Sight
Steven Soderbergh adapts the work of legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard to create a smooth, sexy neo noir in 1998’s Out of Sight. It’s a classic story of cops and robbers, of murder and mayhem. Starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight is easily one of the best crime films of the last fifteen years. Guzman plays Chino, an escaped convict who fancies himself a much harder criminal than he actually is. One of the film’s most memorable moments is the scene in which Lopez’s Karen Sisco, a US Marshall, easily takes him down single-handedly while he comically professes his dubious innocence.
John Travolta is still struggling to come to terms with 16-year-old Jett's death, six months after the tragedy, and withdrew from promotional duties for the remake of the classic 1974 action thriller, leaving it up to director Tony Scott, his costar Denzel Washington and the rest of the cast to deal with the press in his absence.
Washington recently said of Travolta, "One moment, he's OK, and the next he's in tears. Needless to say, he's struggling."
And the Grease star is extremely grateful to have colleagues he can count on in his time of need.
In a statement to his fans on his official website, Travolta says, "It was a labor of love to work on this film with the producers Todd Black, Steve Tisch and Jason Blumenthal, the director Scott, and fellow cast members Washington, Luis Guzman, John Turturro and James Gandolfini ...
"Tony, Denzel, Luis, John, James and Sony Pictures stepped up without hesitation to help promote this wonderful film, and their unselfish efforts have allowed my family the additional time to reconcile our loss."
Jett, Travolta's son with actress wife Kelly Preston, passed away in January after suffering a seizure while on a family vacation in the Bahamas.
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